Champions League Odyssey begins
Sporting prevails in Greece, but nearly turns triumph into tragedy
Prologue: In the first match of their 2016/17 Champions League campaign, Sporting faced reigning European champions Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. For 88 minutes, Sporting played brilliantly and appeared to be on course for an historic 1–0 victory — only to see Real score two goals in the final 5 minutes of the match.
On Tuesday night, in their group stage debut of the 2017/18 Champions League, Sporting once again was on the brink of an historic result — leading Olympiacos in Athens 3–0, and cruising to victory. For 88 minutes. And then, as if arising from the underworld, the Greek champions scored two goals in the final minutes. But this time, Fate smiled upon Sporting, who returned home, victorious.
(No more lame Greek mythology cliches beyond this point.)
The dramatic conclusion to the match is unfortunate in that it overshadowed what was largely a dominant performance by Sporting. JJ repeated the successful strategy deployed in Bucharest, starting Doumbia in place of Dost. In less than two minutes, the move paid dividends, as Doumbia turned an Acuña free kick from the right flank into the Olympiacos area into a scoring header. Only ten minutes later, Doumbia again was the catalyst for Sporting’s offense, latching onto a fortuitous bounce in midfield and finding an open Gelson, who ran unopposed for 50 yards before slotting underneath Olympiacos’ keeper Kapino. The result was a silencing of the once-raucous red-and-white supporters. However, Sporting continued to pummel the ramshackle Olympiacos defense and missed a handful of chances to further increase their margin. In the 43rd minute, Coates threaded a through pass about 20 yards to an unmarked Bruno Fernandes, who added to his early-season scoring run. At the break, the scoreline surely provoked double-takes across Europe: 0–3.
The second half lacked the drama of the first half; Sporting seemed content to keep Olympiacos penned in their half, while the improbability of turning around a three-goal deficit seemed to sink in among the hosts. Approaching full-time, Dost, who came on for a tiring Doumbia mid-half, missed two scoring chances in quick succession in the 89th minute — the latter a header onto Kapino’s crossbar. Immediately thereafter, substitute Pardo glided around Jonathan Silva and fired past Patrício. However, the strike was not a mere consolation goal, as Pardo would score again four minutes later — with Silva once again making a poor defensive effort. Fortunately for Sporting, the referee’s final whistle halted the potential for an epic collapse. Three vital points to feed the dream of surviving Group D.
- Battaglia has not yet convinced me that he can fill the void left by Adrien. (To be fair, they are big shoes to fill.) He was active and features some of the same tormenting tenacity in midfield, but still seems hesitant to venture into the final offensive third. A work in progress.
- Given how Jonathan ended the match, if Fábio Coentrão is unable to go this week against Tondela, would anyone be surprised to see Bruno César start at left back?
- William wore the armband with class, because that’s what he is. (West Whom?)
- Matchday 2: Sporting x Barcelona — the battle for Group D supremacy ;)